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Demand that Duwamish River be cleaned up enough to eat the fish

Bellamy Pailthorp
Duwamish Cleanup Coalition Coordinator, James Rasmussen, says the EPA's plan for restoring ecological health to the 32 square miles of Seattle's Superfund site should include the goal of being able to eat a fish out of the river.

There’s a major milestone this week in the cleanup of Seattle’s Duwamish River. Excavators are removing toxic sludge from one of the most polluted spots in the city’s industrial core. Completion of this work will allow cleanup on the rest of the river. 

But critics say there are already signs it won’t go far enough.

EPA Administrator Dennis McLerren spoke at a ceremony celebrating the cleanup of a side channel known as Slip 4. It’s a hot spot, where old docks that became a dumping ground are now contaminated with more than a century’s worth of PCBs and other toxic waste.

McLerren says the dredging at this Superfund site sets the stage for the restoration of an entire ecosystem that runs through the heart of industrial Seattle.

“We will bring this river back to a much, much better state than it has been for the last hundred years. And it’ll be a place where otters can swim and the salmon will pass through without being contaminated and people will be able to gather clams from the beach again,” McLerren told people assembled at Slip 4 for a briefing on the milestone."

But he says there will most likely still be restrictions on eating bottom fish – even under the EPA’s most expensive option for cleanup, which would cost $1.3 billion dollars and take several decades to complete.

Not just an industrial river

That doesn’t sit well with people who live nearby.

“This is not just an industrial river. This is the city’s only river,” says James Rasmussen, coordinator of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and a member of the Duwamish tribe that once lived off wildlife that thrived here. He says it doesn’t matter how hard it is.

“The goal of being able to eat a fish out of this river at the end of this process – however long that process is -- is going to be incredibly important. If we don’t get to that point, then the community that’s around it, do they really see any difference?”

Rasmussen says cleanup efforts to this point slowed down to ensure proper removal of contaminants upstream of Slip 4, extending that process by at least seven years. He says the overall cleanup process should also take time to make the Duwamish as healthy as possible, even if that means pushing the EPA to go beyond its current standards.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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